Through The Back Door Part Two

A recent column by George Smith in his Bangor Daily News blog reported on LD 1593 which has been unanimously voted OTP (Ought To Pass) by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. The same legislation was also the subject of the most recent column on this blog.

The headline of Smith’s piece was:

Legislature Acts to Strengthen Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping

Bloggers can entitle their submissions in any way they choose, so long as they’re not obscene, libelous, or defamatory. They don’t necessarily have to be truthful. That’s too bad because a more accurate headline would be:

Legislature Acts to Discourage Democracy

Another possibility might be:

 Legislature Restricts The Right of Citizens

As Smith reports “This story begins with a proposal from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine [SAM] designed to discourage wildlife ballot initiatives like the 2014 bear referendum.”   It’s a refreshingly candid statement of intent. It is also highly disturbing and raises the question of interference with one of our state’s most important political safeguards – the right of Mainers to appeal directly to their fellow citizens for redress and, yes, even justice, when the legislature is unresponsive to their concerns.

The best example of ‘unresponsive’ and one of the first that springs to mind is the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, since it responds favorably only in the sense of a private club responding to its membership. A person almost expects to see antlers nailed to the wall of the room in which they meet, not to mention that perhaps a secret handshake may also be required for admission to what functions as a closed society of hunters and trappers, most of them SAM members.

The irony is that the vast majority of Mainers neither hunts nor traps. One comment on this blog’s previous column questions whether the above statement is true, suggesting that the writer (yours truly) lacked integrity (not to be confused with accuracy) by not supplying a link. . However,  anyone can confirm by contacting the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, that the number of Mainers who purchased hunting licenses in 2014 was 196,146. Those who purchased trapping licenses were far fewer – only 2872 in the current year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s 2014 population was 1,330,089.

The numbers, of course, will vary a bit from year to year, but currently, by doing the math, it can be determined that approximately 15 % of Mainers hunt or trap; 85% do not.

Because hunters and trappers dominate the inland fisheries and wildlife committee, other citizens are denied representation, but that’s apparently not enough because this vocal minority now proposes to alter the statute (Title 12, Section 10051) that governs the establishment of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

After hearing from the lobbyist for the Maine Professional Guides whose comments were supported by SAM, nineteen new words were endorsed by the IFW legislative committee. Here’s the first paragraph in the “Department established” section with the additional language underscored.

“The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is established to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the State; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; to provide for effective management of these resources; and to use regulated hunting, fishing and trapping as the basis for the management of these resources whenever feasible.”

In other words, the result of a citizens’ initiative that runs counter to the Department’s current practice regarding the hunting or trapping of Maine’s animals is not to be used as the basis for their management. That’s the role of regulations. The implication is that anything other than regulations becomes secondary, including the direct expressed will of the people. As stated previously, the intent is to ‘discourage’ referendums, though if they could be prohibited altogether, that would no doubt be better yet. Instead, they are just made more difficult.

Yet buried in the language of the same statute is the phrase “wildlife resources of the State” which might cause some to wonder – who is the state if it’s not the people who live there ? And if so, shouldn’t they all have a voice in the management of their resources, including wildlife?

This latest attempt to make the referendum process as complicated and demanding  as possible serves as a warning to all who value the right to express their opinions that if one back door is closed, there may well be another. We need to keep a watchful eye on all of them.








Don Loprieno

About Don Loprieno

Don Loprieno is a student of history and a published author.